I stared at the hundreds and hundreds of little fingerprints. Did the kids touch the walls all the time? Were they blind? Did they find it impossible to walk down a hall or down the stairs without feeling where they were going?
As I worked my way down the stairwell, I glanced at my watch. It was getting closer and closer to four o'clock. I realized again why this day was so hard. It was the anniversary of the day Candace disappeared.
Four o'clock? Suddenly time seemed to stand still. Why was this moment so terrifying? Suddenly, I knew! This was not only the anniversary of the day that Candace disappeared; it was also the anniversary of my decision not to pick her up. I washed more frantically. It made me feel better.
I was almost done when I came across the fingerprints on the wall above the bottom step, and I wondered how they had gotten there. Cliff and I never touched that section of wall, and Odia and Syras were too small. Only Candace, like every teen I knew, would hang onto the doorjamb and swing herself out over the main floor. I looked closer. They were her size. They were Candace's fingerprints!
Fingerprints are evidence of guilt - not Candace's - mine!
What kind of mother would allow her daughter to walk home in the cold at such a vulnerable time? Why hadn't I foreseen what was going to happen? There had been a number of other times when I had sensed that my children were in danger - and stepped in. A mother should know!
The fingerprints seemed to grow larger.
How do you deal with this kind of guilt? It wasn't only guilt from that one decision; it was guilt from everything we had done or hadn't done. Every moment, every mistake, every omission loomed up in the shadowy fingerprints.
I had no defense. The accusing voices of guilt were totally irrational, but guilt is irrational. It is a feeling and rarely responds to normal rational thinking. No matter how hard I tried to reason with it, I was guilty.
I finally said it. "I failed."
I really think I stunned them. The voices were silenced. And it felt good to say those words.
"I am guilty." I said it over and over. I'm not perfect, I declared to the world. I'm not a good mother - bring it on!
Could I forgive myself? I was stumped. I didn't think I could. I would have to live with my guilt. I felt the weight of it, the deadness. Even the sharp pain of Candace's memory was better than this dullness, this lifeless emotion of overwhelming despair of unresolved guilt.
I looked up at the fingerprints. They were magnified through my tears. I would leave them. I wouldn't wipe them off. It would be part of the price.
I was getting up to leave when a soft voice said, "Surely, if you have tried to forgive the murderer, the police, and everyone else, you should benefit from some of that forgiveness." Crumbs?
In some weird way, perhaps the whole concept of forgiveness wasn't just meant for everyone else, perhaps some was meant for me.
I stood up. The fingerprints that had been tattooed onto the wall needed to be removed. I wondered if it would be possible to remove them. I dampened my cloth and washed them away. There was a clean white wall underneath. The whole house suddenly seemed sparkling clean.
It's not about being the perfect mother - it was about letting me go to fail again.
And I have failed my children again and again and again. Amazingly they've all turned out spectacularly - even Candace!
Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Lower the bar. Actually spending ten minutes clearing off one shelf is better than fantasizing about spending a weekend cleaning out the basement. - Gretchen Rubin